Microsoft have been working on more projects than making Microsoft Bing a useful search engine and the release of Windows 10, as one of their research teams is working on a technology designed to produce high quality 3D images of ordinary objects, using ordinary mobile ‘phones. The technology does not require an add-on gadget or special camera of any description and takes only a few seconds longer than taking an ordinary picture. This Microsoft Research is summed by in the words of Peter Ondruska, a Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University, who worked with Microsoft as an intern: “What this system effectively allows us to do is to take something similar to a picture, but it’s a full 3D object.” The system is called MobileFusion and does not rely on anything over and above the software running on the device – there is no Internet connection or access to a cluster of cloud computing servers. It means that should you find yourself in Blair Witch territory, you could stop to take a 3D image of something unusual you discovered in the woods.
MobileFusion’s scans are considered to be of good enough quality to be used for 3D printing and augmented reality video games, or for taking a 3D image of an ordinary object spotted on vacation and sharing it with friends and loved ones. It could also be used by product vendors to take an image of their product and sharing it with potential customers, instead of the more conventional picture or video. The Microsoft Research team are planning to present MobileFusion in early October at the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality show.
Several of the team originally worked on a similar Microsoft project, Kinect Fusion, which allowed customers to build 3D models of their environment (such as houses, offices or even loved ones) but required a computer plus other accessories – it is not portable in the same way an ordinary smartphone is.
One of the key enablers to this technology is how powerful a smartphone’s technology has become in a few short years. Kinect Fusion was limited by the necessary components to build the model environment but modern – or in the case of the video, a less than current iPhone – smartphones have the necessary processor and camera power for the 3D imaging technology. The cornerstone of MobileFusion is an algorithm that allows the camera to act as a 3D scanner by taking multiple images described as “similar to how the human eye works.” The technique involves the RGB, Red Green Blue, functionality of the camera and requires images taken from different angles. The team are tentatively planning to release the technology for Android, Windows Phone and iOS devices although at this juncture there are no firms plans.